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Serbian customs service, one of the symbols of national independence and sovereignty of a country, has travelled a difficult and hard path in its institutional development and growth since its origins to this very day.


Dušan’s Code (Prizrenski prepis – Prizren Copy)

Heavily relying on Sava Nemanjić’s Nomokanon from 13th century, representing a set of religious and civil law regulations, Dušan’s Code was promulgated in 1349, amended in 1354, at the time of development of feudal state.  It provided regulations that governed most of the social relations. Articles 120 and 121 of this Code refer to the customs service.




Beginnings of Customs Service

In medieval Serbia customs was mentioned as a term for the first time in 12th century. At that time no border customs posts existed, and the goods were cleared at designated squares in the places with intensive trade. The most well known customs houses in seashore areas were located in St. Srđ on the Bojana, Dalj on the banks of Drim, and as for inland Serbia, in Brskov, in Sv. Spas (on the road from Skadar to Prizren), in Novo Brdo, Rudnik, Trepča, Prizren and Plana on the Ibar.


Organization of Customs Service in Serbia from 1804 to 1914

In May of 1804 a gümrük (customs) house was established on the Sava river near Ostružnica. In the existing sources from that time an exact date of opening Ostružnica gümrük house was not preserved, but it is possible to determine a near date that may be taken as the Day of the Customs Service of Serbia, primarily owing to the memories of Karađorđe’s commander, beuluk-pasha Petar Jokić (about 1779-1852). It is the only source from that time, but comparing it with some other sources, it was concluded that the date was around May 25, 1804.


During the rule of Prince Miloš, Serbia had a total of 16 border customs houses, Šabačka, Mitrovačka, Ostružnička, Višnjička, Gročanska, Smederevska, Dubravička, Ramska, Varvarinska, Jasenička, Obreška, Livadaška, Crkvenačka, Gornjomoravska, Donjomoravska and Vinička.  The most important one was the Belgrade customs house, held directly by the Belgrade Vizier until it was handed over to Prince Miloš on December 21, 1833. In the same year Prince Miloš issued a decree appointing the staff of the customs house and also the instructions specifying their duties. When Prince Miloš withdrew as a ruler in 1839, Serbian borders had 18 customs houses.


The law on organization of gümrük houses from 1863 introduced certain changes into this organization, and the number of customs houses grew to 27. Three new customs houses on the routes to Austria were established (Grocka, Gradište and Donji Milanovac), although customs officers were appointed to them only from 1865 on. The general setup of customs houses remained the same in essence. The customs service was administered by the ministry of finance from the very beginning, and a special authority for customs service only was established for the first time in 1875. It was a gümrük supervisor, and in 1885 a customs department was also formed.


Immediately after gaining independence on December 19, 1878 the Prince decreed that the customs houses were to be relocated from the former Serbian Turkish border to the new border. Finally, in 1893, King Aleksandar promulgated the Law on amendments to the Law on Customs from 1863 which called for radical reforms in the customs service organization. Customs houses were defined as state institutions directly subordinated to the Minister of Finance.


According to their location and scope of trade, all customs houses were divided into four classes: class one were customs houses with unlimited service, and classes two, three and four were customs houses with limited service. At that time the network of 35 customs houses were formed, two of which were of class one, six belonged to class two, twelve were class three and the remaining fifteen were class four, with the total of four separate branch offices. After the end of Balkan Wars, Serbia expanded its rule to the newly liberated areas of old Serbia and Macedonia. The customs houses network was also extended. The new organization introduced 22 new customs houses, and thirteen former ones were abolished, as follows: Dubravička, Kragujevačka, Vranjska, Davidovac, Radujevačka, Javorska, Prepolačka, Raška, Baltaberilovačka, Golubačka, Dobranjska, Ržanska and Negotinska.


The Customs Administration was divided into Administration Sector, Tariff Sector and Financial Guard Sector. The director of the Administration together with the sector heads made up the Customs Council, whose role was to look into all the important issues for the customs and customs service.


Customs officers in the customs administration were appointed by way of a royal decree. The customs service could not employ a person without at least six years education in secondary commercial or technical schools. In principle, the customs houses were located at the border, and they could also be established inland.


Direct jurisdiction of the customs houses applied in the zone “10 km from the border”, and each customs house had its part of the customs border lines. The very organization of customs houses was changed several times. Therefore, in one period they were divided into principal customs houses of class one, principal customs houses of class two, and secondary customs houses, while in other periods they were simply divided into classes ranging from one to four.


For the tasks to be carried out in the customs houses, depending on  their size and importance, positions were determined in a wide range: customs house administrator, controller, treasurer and assistant treasurer, examiner, warehouse clerk – statistician, clerk, administration officer, external administration officer, helmsman and carrier for goods and boats, porter for carrying goods.  The customs house also employed financial guards, bearers and servants, appointed by the customs house administrator and paid for their work from the general budget.


The number of employees depended on the size of the customs house, its importance and volume of goods traded. Each customs house was to have at least two employees, one of whom might be a trainee, but in practice it was often not the case, so a large number of secondary customs houses only had one employee. The law prescribed that the customs house administrator had to have at least five years of prior experience as appointed customs officer. The commonly present frenzy of dismissing and replacing officers and civil servants appointed by the previous government once the new ruling part or dynasty came into power affected the customs service as well. Customs officers did not have a necessary measure of feeling secure in their jobs that was essential to them and they were not protected against political and dynastic prosecution at the end of 19th and beginning of 20th centuries. 

Customs Service between World Wars I and II

After World War One, first in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians, and then in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, due to internal conflicts, crises and tensions in international relations, customs service did not play a dominant role. Customs authorities were the Ministry of Finance with the Customs Department, financial directorates with customs divisions, customs houses with customs chemical laboratories and Customs Bureau, headquarters of customs treasury and financial control.


A special customs authority institution was the Customs Council, established by the head of the Customs Department, and made up of heads of divisions and sections, and they solved all the important issues related to the customs service.


Financial directorates included departments for customs in Belgrade, Zagreb, Ljubljana, Skopje, Split and Dubrovnik.  The customs houses were directly subordinated to customs divisions. There were principal customs houses and customs houses of classes one and two. Principal customs houses were in Belgrade, Dubrovnik, Zagreb, Ljubljana, Maribor, Novi Sad, Osijek, Sarajevo, Skopje, Thessalonica, Split, Subotica and Sušak. The Thessalonica customs house was located in the territory of the Kingdom of Greece and served the Yugoslav Free Zone in Thessalonica. Customs service involved concept service, professional, financial, control and manipulative services, while officers were classified according to the qualifications they had.. The Kingdom of Yugoslavia Customs Service, together with the financial guard component,  had about 4,000 employees on the eve of the war.

Customs Authority Organization in Kingdom of Yugoslavia
Customs Houses Classes One and Two with Departments and Sections (1936)

1. Bar with Departments in Sukobin and Ulcinj
2. Bezdan with Departments in Bački Breg and Riđica
3. Bela Crkva with Departments in Vračev Gaj, Kusić, Kruščica and Dobričevo
4. Belgrade with Departments in Pančevo, Zemun, at the Railway Station, Post Office, the Danube quay, and Zemun airport
5. Biograd na Moru
6. Bitolj with Departments in Grudišnica, Dragoš, Ljubojna and Stenj                        
7. Velika Kikinda with Departments in Banatsko Aranđelovo in Srpski Itebej
8. Veliko Gradište
9. Virovitica with Departments in Terezino Polje and Jelačićevo
10. Vršac with Departments in Jaša Tomić and Vatin
11. Vrška Čuka
12. Gornja Radgona with Sections in Cmurek, Gederovci, Cankova, Serdeca, Hodoš and Trikova
13. Debar with Departments in Blato and Mireš
14. Dravograd-Meža with Departments in Prevalj, Remšnik, Zgodna Vizinga, Remnica, Vič, Libelič, Holmec, Mežica, Koprivna and Solvača
15. Dubrovnik
16. Đakovica with Sections Ponoševac and Žub
17. Đevđelija with Sections Novo Selo, Dobran, Huma and Rožden and Sections in Nikolić, Bogorodica and Mojin
18. Zagreb with Sections Bosanski Brod, Karlovac and Sisak, with postal and traffic sections at the railway station and at the airport
19. Zamet with Sections Drenova, Hosta, Kastav and Klenjska Cesta
20. Zemunik with Sections Bibinje, Babidub, Murvica, Briševo, Dikla and Privlaka
21. Jesenice with Sections Boljinska Bistrica, Kranjska Gora, Potkorensko Sedlo, Rateča and Bled
22. Koprivnica with Section Goli
23. Korčula with Section Bela Luka
24. Kotor with Sections Risan and Budva
25. Kotoriba with Sections Čakovac, Donja Lendava, Letenjski Most and Genterovci
26. Krk with Section in Malinska
27. Ljubljana with Departments in Sorica, Leskovica, Sovodnje, Žira, Sv. Ana, Jezerska and at the customs airport 
28. Makarska
29. Maribor with Sections in Sv. Jurij, Svečina, Št. Ilja and Sl. Gora
30. Metković
31. Novi Sad
32. Obrovac – class two customs house
33. Osijek with Departments in Vukovar, Vinkovci, Beli Manastir, Donji Miholjac, Kneževo and Baranjsko Petrovo Selo
34. Ohrid with Section  in Sv. Naum
35. Pag – class two customs house with Sections in Karlobag, Novala and Košljun
36. Podgorica with Sections Tuzi, Skla, Vir Pazar, Rijeka Crnojevića, Gusinje and Cijevna
37. Prahovo with Departments in Tekiji, Kladovu and Radujevcu
38. Preko with Departments in Ista and Silba
39. Prizren with Section in Žura and Section in Vranište
40. Rab – class two customs house
41. Rakek with Departments in Planina, Kalce, Hotedržica and Leskova Dolina
42. Sarajevo with customs and postal section
43. Skoplje with Departments in Bosiljgrad, Kriva Palanka and Carevo Selo
44. Smederevo
45. Thessalonica
46. Split with customs and postal section and Sections in Omiš, Dugirat, Vranjica, Sućurac, Trogir, Hvar, Vis and Komiža
47. Struga with Departments in Ćafa-Sana and G. Belica
48. Subotica with Departments in Horgoš, Novi Kneževac and Bajmok
49. Sušak with Departments in Bakar, Kraljevica, Crikvenica, Senj and railway station Plase
50. Herceg Novi with Departments in Zelenika and Budva
51. Caribrod with Departments in Klisurs and Gradinje
52. Šibenik



Ministres of Finance Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians

1918 Stojan Protić

1918 – 1919 Momčilo A. Ninčić
1919 – 1920 Vojislav S. Veljković
1920 Velizar S. Janković
1920 – 1921 Kosta Stojanović
1921 Milorad Drašković
1921 – 1922 Kosta Kumanudi
1922 – 1924 Milan Stojadinović
1924 Mehmed Spaho
1924 – 1926 Milan Stojadinović
1926 Nikola Uzunović
1926 Ninko Perić
1926 – 1928 Bogdan St. Marković
1928 – 1929 Niko Subotić


Ministres of Finance
Kingdom of Yugoslavia

1929 – 1931 Stanko Švrljuga

1931 Đorđe Đurić
1931 – 1934 Milorad Đorđević
1934 – 1935 Milan Stojadinović
1935 Miloš Bobić
1935 – 1936 Marko Kozulj
1936 – 1939 Dušan Letica
1939 Vojin Đuričić
1939 – 1943 Juraj Šutej
Photo: Milan Stojadinović, Minister of Finance in several Governments of the Kingdom of SCS and Kingdom of Yugoslavia



Customs Service Organization after World War Two

The post-war Yugoslavia Customs Service started operating on November 15, 1944 in the customs houses located in the liberated territory. In December 1944, the Customs Department, as well as customs inspectorates and customs houses were organized as part of the State Commissariat of Finance. Customs organizational network in 1945 till 1947 was based on the situation preceding April 6, 1941, when World War Two started in Yugoslavia. In 1947 customs inspectorates as well as financial guard were abolished, and part of their jobs was assigned to the customs authorities. At the times of centralized administration, the development of the customs service was rather slowed down, and its role was a minor one in foreign trade system.


Thus, the customs houses and customs departments were located at the border, and present only in several most developed commercial and economic centres in the country. Considerable organizational changes were undertaken by 1963, resulting in 33 customs houses in total. The period from 1963 to 1984 was characterized by intensive organizational development of the customs service in response to what economy needed.


The network of organizational units at that time was quite developed and evenly distributed. Eight customs houses, 160 customs posts and units, 9 customs laboratories and 5 regional ERCs (electronic computing centres) for automated data processing were established.


After World War Two most of the customs officers continued working in the customs service. In the period 1947-1948 the new organization was introduced. After personnel changes in 1953 the customs service had only 670  employees. During this period the employees generally had rather poor qualifications, and officers holding a university degree were quite an exception.


For positions at the border, where the working conditions were especially hard, young men and women were selected from youth voluntary public works campaigns, and also partly from the Yugoslav People’s Army ranks and from the law enforcement officers. During 1960s till mid-1970s the qualification structure of the customs service was radically changed, and there were more officers holding university and post-secondary degrees. The invested efforts led to the customs services almost doubling its workforce, and in 1984 it employed 4,414 customs officers.


On the dissolution of the SFRY in 1991 and forming of the FRY the number of customs offices was significantly reduced, from 40 to only 14. New border crossings were opened at the borders with the former Yugoslav republics,   and work continued. Until 2001 the customs service was a federal level authority and directly accountable to the federal government.


In 2001 the customs service had 3,129 employees, 15 customs offices, 149 customs posts, 21 customs units, 78 international border crossings and 7 crossings for near-border area traffic. Its importance is reflected by the fiscal, protective, security and information functions it performs.


Today the Customs Administration is part of the Ministry of Finance. At present the customs service watches 2,114 km of land border and 700 km of river border. It employs 2,542 staff in 14 customs offices, 92 customs posts, 26 customs units for clearance of goods, 76 border crossings and 9 customs control points.




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